"When that first started, we didn't have a clue what we were getting into," he said in an interview. But then more and more evidence kept turning up--a bone here, a shoe there, an entire body in a ditch. "It got to the point where you were thinking: 'Am I walking on [someone's remains] now? There could be more under every rock. How much longer could this go on?' "
In a county that suffers perhaps a handful of murders in a bad year, he said, "we'd never seen anything like this. . . . It was amazing."
For weeks, shellshocked residents asked: Where is Ng? Will he be back?
"I think it startled a lot of people out of their feelings of security around here," said California Highway Patrol Officer Bill Claudino. "People started locking their doors and listening for noises and wondering who lives next door. You still see that."
A month after the first remains were discovered, Ng was captured in Calgary, Canada, when he tried to shoplift a soda. That ended a worldwide manhunt, but it began the 13-year marathon to his trial date next month.
Because Canada does not have a death penalty, it took a ruling by that nation's highest court six years later, in 1991, to force Ng's extradition.
Ng's return to California triggered a legal proceeding at Calaveras County's small, rural courthouse that was unprecedented in its security and celebrity.
Ng was driven in from Folsom State Prison with a helicopter escort for a cavalcade of pretrial hearings that would span three years. Spectator spots were at a premium--"You had to know someone," Harrington recalls--and the county had to find a portable metal-detector to use for onlookers because of security concerns spurred by the communitywide animosity toward Ng.
Armed officers stood watch on the roof of the courthouse, and Cheryl Scheftner, who owns a Western-style clothes store in town, remembers her surprise at how aggressively she and other potential jurors were searched as they strolled into court for duty.
"They were real concerned that someone would sneak in and try to kill [Ng]," she said. "He probably wasn't 10 feet away from me in court. It gave me the chills just to be that close to him."
Bolstering the argument for transferring the case to Orange County, one defense survey several years ago found an extraordinary 98% of Calaveras County's residents familiar with the case--with half believing Ng is guilty.
If the acidic sentiments of the diners at Station 49 in San Andreas one recent morning are any indication, those feelings haven't softened much today.
The mere mention of Ng's name evoked bitter profanities as the breakfast crowd, made up mostly of graying miners and retired laborers, lingered over the morning's eggs and coffee.
"You want justice?" asked one diner in a weathered Raiders cap. "Let 'em bring him back up here [from Orange County] and see what happens. We'll give him justice."
Seventy-two-year-old Charlie Segale chimed in: "People in Calaveras County just want to hang him and get it done with."
At the counter, 63-year-old diner owner Schell was more thankful than vengeful.
He remembers answering Lake's ad for car parts a few weeks before the murder spree was discovered, talking to Lake and checking out a few of his cars on the property. The killers had allegedly used advertisements to meet several victims.
"It was pretty scary to think I could've been one of the victims," Schell said. "Those guys touched a lot of people around here."
Touched more than most are the people around the murder scene in Wilseyville, a sparsely populated, downtrodden area that boasts mock street signs like "Poverty Lane" near the general store, the post office and the dump at the center of town.
A Lingering Presence
Some locals are so tired of the infamy that the subject has become taboo, and they shoo away the passersby who inevitably seek a glimpse of the tree-shrouded murder scene. A thick, padlocked gate and a "Keep Out" sign buffer the desolate site, and townspeople say they aren't even sure who, if anyone, lives there now.
"We just try to forget it," said Shirley Brown, who runs the general store in Wilseyville.
In nearby San Andreas, waitress Patty Hook says she can't even drive through that area without "getting the creeps. . . . Just the word Wilseyville, when I hear that, I go uuugh."
Schembri, a jack-of-all-trades whose car shop sits just a few miles down the road, summed up the attitude of many when he said: "Enough is enough. Everyone just wants an end to this whole thing."
That could come next month if Ng's trial gets underway in Orange County as planned. But first there is a pretrial hearing Friday, and Ng--acting as his own lawyer--will be making a new run at an old theme: He wants the trial delayed six months.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The 13-Year Trek to Trial
July 1984-May 1985: At least 12 people in Northern California disappear.